Shroud of Shadow by Gael Baudino
Natil is the last of the Elven race, and in this novel she takes a runaway nun, Omelda, under her wing during the time of the Inquisition. Natil’s powers are mostly gone, except for her miraculous harp playing, which is the only thing that saves Omelda from suicide. Natil herself is suicidal, and wants nothing more than to crawl under a rock and cease to exist. Obsessed with this goal, she doesn’t do much for Omelda except get the two of them indentured to a selfish rich man, his greedy sons, and his perverted grandsons. Much description of sadistic rape follows.
Natil keeps herself going because she has visions of Elves reawakening in the twentieth century — the only trouble is that these elves are this rather boring couple who spend all their time navel-gazing and talking about how groovy their new powers are. So anyway, they’re the hope of the Elven race, and Natil goes on about her business, bemoaning her own lack of powers and still planning her departure from this world. Natil’s self-pity blinds her to the much more dire plight of Omelda; I was sorely disappointed in Natil over this.
Eventually, all the major characters end up charged by the Inquisition. Description of nasty tortures follows. Some of the characters get a semi-happy ending, due to the fact that money conquers all, but the end suffered by one of the characters is absolutely pointless and depressing.
Overall, the book sunk me into a morass of despair while all the while making me want to throw up. I wanted to wash my brain out with soap afterward. (After I finished the book, I had to read some pages of something else before I could sleep.) Perhaps this is the effect Gael Baudino is trying to achieve. And yes, I know that these atrocities really happened to real people during those times. But there’s no law saying I have to enjoy reading about it in detail. The scenes where Natil actually does something, for example when she plays the harp or when she stands up to the Inquisitor, are quite good, but you have to wade through hundreds of pages of gross-out to find them.
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